July 6, 2022

How bullying on social media affects an athlete’s mental game

By Yann Guérin
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When fans watch players perform on the football pitch or in high-level competitions, they often get caught up in the excitement. It’s easy for fans to forget that their favorite athletes are human.

Previously, a fan would make a passing comment to their friends that a particular player or the team wasn’t playing well, and vent their frustration that way. But in today's online world, fans can express themselves on social networks: and some aren’t shy about saying what they think about a player’s performance. 

Online keyboard courage turns to harassment

With online access comes a particular brand of “keyboard courage.” Many people feel free to post things online about others that they would never say to the person directly. The poster may feel that they are simply expressing their opinion, but their comments can quickly cross the line into insults and harassment

Pressure to perform can start early

For some athletes, the pressure they place on performing starts long before they reach the top levels. Highly talented young athletes with several years of development ahead of them struggle with their mental health, and there is pressure on these young stars to succeed. At the same time, youth soccer is much more intensive than it was in the past, and it isn’t just a game for young athletes anymore.

Young soccer players struggle with their mental health for several reasons:

  • Injuries

It’s part of the game to get injured and go through the recovery process. Younger players may see this process as something that will make them lose their edge and eventually lead to burnout. A demanding schedule may not give players time to take mental breaks from playing to refocus. 

  • Pressure from others

Coaches and parents single out star players who are expected to perform at a top-level every time. These young players may also have the burden of leadership thrust upon them, to be an example to their teammates. 

  • Player’s own expectations

Players may develop their dreams of playing professionally at some point. If they hit a peak in their abilities as they mature, they may become anxious and disappointed as their dreams become less likely to come to fruition.

Online toxicity makes the problem worse

It's very difficult for targets of online hate to avoid exposure to the comments. Unlike mean playground taunts, the messages follow players everywhere. It’s on their phones, in private messages, on blog posts, on websites, and on social media. Once the toxic content starts, there isn’t anywhere a player can go online to get away from it. 

Athletes feel vulnerable if they feel they aren’t performing at their best. Their coaches may already be talking about their performance. And fans following them online (65% of sports fans watch videos and games on their smartphones) add their take on the situation by attacking the athlete personally. It would be impossible not to take these types of comments to heart: they hurt and can have a significant impact on an athlete’s confidence and self-esteem.

Athletes can’t simply turn off their social media accounts to avoid the possibility of being exposed to potential toxicity. Social media is an essential vehicle for them to connect with fans, which means they don’t want to completely go off the online radar.

Bodyguard protects athletes from online toxicity

Bodyguard is a moderation solution developed for use with social media and online platforms to prevent toxic content. It is an effective tool for protecting athletes and the online community from hateful comments in real time. Bodyguard gives you the advantage of smart moderation, to ensure that only neutral or supportive comments are shared on your online platforms.

Remember that 40% of social media users disengage from a platform after being confronted with content that is deemed toxic. Our goal at Bodyguard isn't to discourage fans from sharing opinions and being passionate about their sport. Instead, we want to encourage everyone to show an appropriate amount of respect and avoid posting toxic content in public forums. 

Find out more about how Bodyguard protects sports clubs and athletes around the world.

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